SINGAPORE - A general practitioner and the healthcare charity he co-founded are the recipients of The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year award for 2017.
Dr Goh Wei Leong and HealthServe, which provides migrant workers with affordable healthcare, beat nine other finalists to the award.
Organised by The Straits Times and sponsored by UBS Singapore, the award honours Singaporeans who have put the country on the world map, persevered through incredible adversity or made the community a better place through selfless acts. It is now in its third year.
HealthServe was founded in 2006 by Dr Goh and businessman Tang Shin Yong. It has dental and medical clinics in Geylang, Mandai and Jurong, and also offers social assistance, skills training and a food programme.
"Its not just about dishing out medicine," said Dr Goh. "It's about the human community. (In the early days), I realised we needed social workers, counsellors, and legal advisory."
President Halimah Yacob presented Dr Goh and HealthServe with a cash prize of $20,000 and a trophy at a ceremony held on Tuesday (Feb 6) at UBS University Asia-Pacific.
Said Madam Halimah of this year’s winner: “They are a truly deserving recipient. They have been doing this for a very long time, with all that passion... it’s not easy to sustain that kind of contribution."
She added that the award "brings the best out of Singaporeans".
"To some extent they are Singaporeans like you and me, but there’s something special about every one of them. They give of their best and I think they have a lot of passion to serve... That’s what we want, a compassionate, caring society."
She commended Dr Goh for thinking not just about Singaporeans, but also foreign workers who come here to help build the country and serve other Singaporeans.
Referring to the award, she added: “It has inspired me – I hope it will inspire others as well.”
Their win was decided after a public vote and deliberation by a 15-judge panel.
The other nine finalists each received $5,000. The prize money is sponsored by UBS.
HealthServe has 10 full-time staff, 70 active volunteer doctors who work there in their spare time, 20 dentists, and 300 volunteers who are nurses, pharmacists, housewives, students, counsellors and administrative officers.
The workers pay $5 for each visit. Those on a Special Pass who are unable to work after lodging an injury or salary claim with the Manpower Ministry need not pay.
The number of yearly consultations doubled from fewer than 4,000 in 2015 to nearly 8,000 by the end of 2016. Last year, HealthServe helped more than 445 workers with work injury and salary-related cases, dished out more than 20,200 free meals, and housed 30 workers in two emergency shelters.
Singapore has about one million low-wage migrant workers from the developing world, making up nearly 30 per cent of the workforce.
"Our dream is to work ourselves out of a job. To close HealthServe once there is enough public responsibility," said Dr Goh.
The inaugural award in 2015 went to Good Samaritan Noriza A. Mansor, for helping an elderly Chinese man who had soiled himself in public. The 2016 award was given to Joseph Schooling and his parents, May and Colin, for their dedication and sacrifice in chasing the dream of an Olympic gold for Singapore.
In the running for this year's award were 10 finalists from different walks of life, aged 15 to 57.
The nine other finalists are film-maker Kirsten Tan; conductor Wong Kah Chun; cartoonist Sonny Liew; para-athlete Jason Chee; indoor skydiver Kyra Poh; student Muhammad Luqman Abdul Rahman; lawyer Satwant Singh; martial arts instructor Qin Yunquan; and emergency responders Mohamad Fuad Abdul Aziz and Syed Abdillah Alhabshee.
They were picked from 60 nominees after four rounds of selection by a panel of 15 judges. The judging panel includes editors from The Straits Times, as well as figures such as social entrepreneur and activist Saleemah Ismail, chef and restaurateur Willin Low and singer-songwriter Dick Lee.
Special mention was also given on Tuesday to Silvia Hajas, the Australian housewife who in May last year saved three boys from drowning in the sea off East Coast Park.
Mr Warren Fernandez, editor-in-chief of SPH's English/Malay/Tamil Media group and editor of The Straits Times, said: "This year we uncovered another crop of outstanding Singaporeans, who have overcome the odds to do themselves, and the country, proud.
"Whether it is in their respective fields, such as film or classical music, or helping communities abroad and at home, their work speaks of a commitment and sense of purpose that is laudable and worthy of our respect and applause. Each of their stories is an inspiration to us all."
Mr Edmund Koh, UBS' country head in Singapore and its head of wealth management in Asia-Pacific, said: "UBS Singapore is delighted to once again partner The Straits Times for the Singaporean of the Year award 2017... This year, our finalists continue to do us proud, displaying courage in the face of adversity, compassion for those in need, and a drive for excellence within their respective fields.
"We celebrate all the finalists as they are each deserving in their own way. At the same time, our congratulations to Dr Goh and Healthserve, whose selfless contributions over the years have touched the lives of many, and helped create a more nurturing and caring society."